EMERYVILLE preservationists are awaiting a Jan. 17 City Council meeting to learn if several condemned Victorian-era cottages on 41st Street, between San Pablo Avenue and Adeline Street, known as the Triangle District, will face the wrecking ball — clearing the way for a new townhome development.
Recent news reports reveal the vacant houses are owned by John Tibbetts, long-time proprietor of the nearby Oaks Card Club. At a council meeting in December, an appeal filed by a neighbor opposing the project was heard, and city staff members were directed to evaluate how much it would cost to move the structures, or perhaps incorporate them into the new development.
On a recent walk-through of the neighborhood, I asked Donald Hausler of the Emeryville Historical Society to fill me in on the colorful history of the little square-mile municipality. Hausler is one of the authors of the recently published "Emeryville," one of the "Images of America" series by the Arcadia Publishing Co.
According to Hausler, there is a core group of history buffs who, for the past 17 years, have been gathering information and publishing a quarterly journal, all of which are on file at the Oakland Main Library History Room.
"Emeryville is too small to fund its own library system," said Hausler, a retired librarian who lives in the Oakland Rose Garden neighborhood. "So it pays Oakland to allow Emeryville citizens to access its facilities.
"The city of Emeryville has been supporting our efforts to gather information and publish the quarterly, and in turn over the years, we have mounted exhibits about various aspects of the town's unique history."
Hausler explains the Oaks Card Room is one of the last of a vanishing breed of businesses that once flourished within Emeryville's city limits.
"At one time there were as many as 35 card-playing establishments in the city, dating to before the turn of the last century," he says. "In fact, our research shows that part of the Oaks building on San Pablo dates to the 1890s. The Tibbetts family has owned or managed the establishment for several decades."
In the 1980s, files say, the business underwent a major renovation and expansion, costing $1.5 million. The card room also operates three nearby parking lots for the hundreds of customers who come in daily. The Oaks never closes, said Hausler.
Across the street from the club on Park Avenue, once stood the ball park for the Oakland Oaks baseball team. "The Oaks games drew tremendous crowds," says Hausler. "The team won the Pacific League Pennant two years running, 1948-1950."
Emeryville was the place to come for entertainment of all kinds, say the history files. Horse racing, a motor speedway and aerial acrobatics were among the spectator sports. In addition, the legendary
Shell Mound Park near the Bay shore drew day trippers from throughout the Bay Area during its heyday in the early 1900s.
Although Hausler spent his early years living in Oakland's Rockridge neighborhood, he remembers his father going to work every day in nearby Emeryville. "My father was an electrical engineer and worked for Westinghouse, one of Emeryville's major employers," he recalls. "(It was) one of a number of industrial-related companies that clustered within city limits."
Westinghouse's mammoth headquarters, damaged in the 1989 earthquake, was demolished in 1993. Other examples of the city's history are rapidly vanishing in the face of new development projects, both commercial and residential, says Hausler.
Perhaps the city's best known historic residence, the gracious home of town founder Joseph Emery built in 1868, was demolished in 1946. The ball park would later occupy the site. The cottages now under review were built for workers, perhaps employed by the streetcar lines or railroads that crisscrossed San Pablo Avenue and Adeline. One house at the corner of Adeline and 41st Street — and not included in the proposed development — has an interesting history, say the files.
"This was known as the Wilson house," says Hausler. "We know that he served for a time as the Emeryville superintendent of schools."
Further research reveals that Otis Wilson and wife Evadne sought to establish an "artists' colony" on the property, which they called "Bachelor's Haven" after traveling through Mexico, South America and Europe in the 1940s.
"Mrs. Wilson's mosaic murals can still be seen on the exterior walls of the now-ramshackle house, the gardens today are completely overgrown, adding to the mystery," says Hausler, who has led walking tours of the neighborhood in the past.
Currently under consideration is the possibility that one of the nearby boarded up houses will be moved to a vacant lot on 40th and Adeline streets. "It would be a shame to lose this cluster of older homes," says Hausler. "Hopefully at least one of them can be saved."
The Emeryville history book is now available in local book stores. The latest article in the history society journal is on collecting Oakland Oaks baseball cards. For more information, or if you have stories to share about the old days in Emeryville, contact Don Hausler at 658-1083.